Did You Know? The power of a business plan

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As part of a six-month series on district operations, the Did You Know? monthly feature in eResource will highlight chapters of the NACD District Outlook Task Force report: “Blueprint for Locally-Led Conservation – A Strategy for District Success and Sustainability” (available here on our website). This month’s chapter tackles business planning.

A business plan is a living blueprint that guides an organization’s priorities and activities. It also incorporates market research and resource identification with implementation strategies for achieving growth and sustainability objectives. These plans typically include the following components:

Analysis – Market, Feasibility, Organizational

The analysis defines the external opportunities in the “industry” or sub-sector, the potential markets, the competition, and the district’s capacity. The analysis is typically completed through phone or in-person interviews and a review of relevant materials, reports, and documents. The analysis attempts to discern where market needs and interests overlap with the district’s assets, competencies, or products. The analysis provides a profile of potential markets, an assessment of the “institutional landscape” and completion, and the opportunities or obstacles for success. It becomes the context for decision making. It may address feasibility and costs/benefits of alternative directions within the context of creating a sustainable and impactful district.

Strategic Decisions

Based on this analysis, your district’s leadership should define the district’s potential for growth and sustainability and map out outcomes. A decision-making session typically focuses on key programs, products, or services to attain strategic goals, serve markets, and define the most appropriate and feasible business model. It will also address realistic financial needs and the likelihood of attracting long-term investment. It also defines organizational development implications of a select option. The outcome of the meeting is a strategic focus document representing fundamental business decisions.

The Business Plan

Now, you’re ready to create a business plan that defines the most appropriate structure, staffing, and systems to achieve goals and to reach potential markets. Oftentimes, the business model addresses necessary strategic partnerships and funding sources. It also includes a clear focus on strategic priorities and creates realistic timelines with financial projections. The outcome is a business plan with specific recommendations and practical steps for implementation.

A business plan should have the following components:

  1. Executive Summary – Provide an overview suitable for prospective funders’ consumption.
  2. Table of Contents – Make it easy to find the information.
  3. Introduction – State the purpose and timeframe for the plan.
  4. Structure & Governance – Explain the statutes and authorities under which districts operate, provide a brief history and your district’s vision and mission statements, and list the board and staff members and their roles as well as partners.
  5. Long Range (3-5 year) Plan – Identify the current conditions, critical areas, special needs, and trends in the district. List the district’s goals to improve conditions and include measurable objectives that take you from Step 1 to 2, etc. Set priorities for each concern.
  6. District Capacities, Needs & Strategies – List the services provided by the district. Are customers asking for other services? Does the district have adequate staff to provide assistance? Does the district have active board members? What type of training is needed to make staff and board members more effective? How does the district reach its clients and the public? What financial resources does the district have? Could they be expanded with new partners? What facilities and equipment does the district have and what is needed? How does district measure progress towards its objectives?
  7. Annual Work Plan – State the district’s goals and objectives for one year based on the long range objectives and other objectives which are not included in the Business Plan but require attention in the next year.
  8. Appendices – Provide maps, related statutes, or other items too long for the plan.

Recommendations for Districts:

  • Establish a local workgroup, and/or a local priority setting process, to address all local resource concerns.
  • Utilize locally-led process and resources established by NACD and conservation partners.
  • Develop a business plan that allows the district board and staff to map out a multi-year strategy to address natural resource concerns with tools to engage local support.
  • Develop a long-range plan that evaluates the current state of the district and addresses district goals and objectives for the next 3 to 5 years.
  • Assess the district’s capacities, needs and strategies to meet the challenges in enhancing the quality of its natural resources.
  • Develop an annual work plan that addresses the objectives and activities of the district for the next year. An annual work plan will allow the board and staff to prioritize and assess their activities.

Recommendations for State Associations:

  • Develop a business plan, long-range plan, and annual work plan templates for districts to use.
  • Provide training workshops and assist districts in developing these plans.
Disclaimer: Did You Know? recommendations and observations may not apply to all states. NACD’s DO/MS Committee requests your understanding. We also invite you to find out what your state and local laws and policies say about any particular item.

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